The UK's food supply chain is too exposed to outside shocks, a Conservative MP has warned.

Speaking at the City Food Symposium in London yesterday (13 December), Laura Sandys said the UK needed to do more at a national and international level to help address volatile food prices. In the UK, she said the food supply chain is too exposed to swings in commodity markets.

"We have a system that delivers fantastically cheap food, but it is not at all resilient, so it is vulnerable," Sandys told guests at the conference, which was organised by City University's Centre for Food Policy.

She said the UK "has become drunk on cheap food" and highlighted the likelihood of more volatile prices as a key challenge. "A little bit of an increase in food prices is really important but what we can't be looking at is huge volatility."

Throughout 2011, the United Nations' Food & Agriculture Organisation has repeatedly warned that volatility in food commodity markets is becoming the norm. Last month, consultancy group McKinsey said that average global prices for all commodities, including food and energy, have risen by 147% in real terms in the last ten years.

The current UK Government is facing growing criticism over its perceived hands-off attitude towards a range of food issues. Since its election in May 2010, the Government has overseen budget cuts at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, abolished an expert advisory committee on obesity and reduced the work of a food policy unit set up by the previous administration.

Dr David Barling, of City University, told yesterday's conference that the Government needs to take a stronger lead in creating a more sustainable food system. "We did have a plan emerging, [but] that's fading away," he said.

However, Sandys, while calling for more action on food security and consumer education, argued that ministers are engaged with some of the key issues. "I would not be so downbeat on what the Government is doing," she said.

Later, at a separate event organised by UK manufacturing body The Food and Drink Federation, DEFRA Secretary Caroline Spelman insisted the Government was "concerned" about the issue of food security.

Spelman noted her time working in the food industry; in the 1980s, she worked in the sugar beet sector, including a stint as deputy director of CIBE, the confederation of European beet growers.

"I used to work in the sugar beet industry. I know very well what the volatility of world prices for food really mean and food security is back as a challenge on the agenda and I know that you, as a food industry, is as concerned about that as we are," Spelman said.